On Boxing Day the West Australian reported that a man fitting the description of an escaped patient from Graylands Hospital in Perth was detained at the hospital, given antipsychotic drugs and suffered an adverse reaction which landed him in the general hospital. Click here to see the report. The return of an escaped psychiatric patient or an adverse drug reaction do not usually make the news, except that this time the authorities got the wrong man. The state’s Minister of Mental Health expressed her apologies for the ‘dreadful mistake’ and the Shadow Attorney General described the incident as ‘unlawful assault’.  

Most readers would agree with the politicians’ assessments but their words of concern uncover an implicit consensus that the ‘assault’ would have been justified on the ‘right’ man. That’s because the ‘right’ man had a diagnosis of mental illness and had been placed under the Mental Health Act.   We should always be very suspicious when the state applies different standards to the treatment of different classes of citizen. In this case people believed that the wrong man ought to have been protected from detention and the compulsory administration of potentially harmful drugs but their outrage also underlined that they think these assaults were justified for the ‘right’ man. It doesn't matter to them that the right man may never have committed a crime and obviously did not want to be in the hospital or to take the drugs. 

I await the day when our politicians and professional bodies apologise to all people who have experienced psychiatric ‘assault’ without making the distinction between lawful assault and unlawful assault or between people diagnosed with mental illness and others.  The report on this incident is a depressing reminder that I may be waiting a long time.